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Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 3, Sam and the Tiger | Summary



Sam of the chapter's title is Indian field marshal General Sam Manekshaw (1914–2008), chief of staff of the Indian army during the siege of Dacca. The Tiger is General Niazi, leader of the West Pakistani troops that invaded East Pakistan and fought with the Bengali rebels. In this short chapter the buddha, despite his loss of memory, still sees his fate as parallel and tied to that of the leaders of Pakistan. On December 15, 1971, the West Pakistani invaders of East Pakistan surrendered to the Indian army, and Saleem Sinai "surrendered" to love.

India, alarmed at the number of Bengali refugees at its borders and in sympathy with East Pakistan's independence, was aided by intelligence offered by the Mukti Bahini, the revolutionary army of the Bengali rebels.

As the buddha and Shaheed Dar entered Dacca, they did not allow themselves to embrace the reality of the crimes perpetrated by the Pakistani army against the citizens. The buddha chose desertion as the proper course and visited a shop in order to purchase civilian clothing. In the meantime Shaheed waited outside in the streets. Shaheed was killed by a grenade.

On the day of independence for Bangladesh there was a celebration in the streets. Included in the festivities was a parade of the Indian army accompanied by "a hundred and one of the finest entertainers and conjurers India could provide." Among the entertainers who marched along with the troops was Parvati-the-witch, one of Saleem's crew from the defunct Midnight Children's Conference. Parvati recognized Saleem and called out to him. Thus, his identity was preliminarily returned.

When Parvati proposed smuggling Saleem out of Bangladesh, she agreed to use her magic to accomplish the task. Her trick was to "dematerialize" Saleem, who was placed in her large wicker basket. He claims to have entered a limbo that taught him what it was like to be dead. He claims to have lost memory, to drift away from his past with nothing to remind him except the silver spittoon he kept by his side.

Saleem was reborn in Parvati's basket in a repetition of his second birth in the laundry closet. In this birth "something was fading in Saleem and something was being born." In his rebirth he claimed his wrath, free of the parental individuals who had decreed his exceptionalism based on his birth date. He understood that he was free to choose his own "undestined future." He sees himself as the sum total of his experiences. Identity restored, Saleem says he "had begun, once again, to feel."


Although this episode opens with the buddha, Saleem's damaged persona, creating correspondences between his own life and that of the powerful men who managed the war of Bangladesh's independence, by the episode's end he has found an autonomy that had eluded him for 24 years.

And, ironically, he discovers in his experience a correspondence that rings true. Just as he had entered adulthood in the discovery of his sexuality in the laundry closet, in Parvati's magic basket he is born yet again. Best of all, he no longer suffers the "abstraction of numbness." For the first time he is realistically optimistic. The lesson he draws from the magic of the basket is that "some afflictions ... are capable of being conquered." Optimism, along with anger, seems to be part of his new range of feelings.

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